HIST G8923: History in Action Clinic Course 2015-16
“The Politics of Historical Dialogue: Civil Society Advocacy”
Prof. Elazar Barkan
A full-year course (2 credits each semester)
Memory of historical violence and victimization plays an increasing role in international and intra-national conflicts. Numerous countries have focused on historical crimes of atrocities of previous regimes or during historical conflicts, but states, including both new and established democracies, ignore past atrocities. The demand to redress atrocities has become routinized as appeal to an international norm. In certain cases, the memory of historical violence provides a foundation for reconciliation, but in many more it remains a continuous site of conflict and contention. Why this difference? How does a focus on the past incite conflict or contribute to reconciliation? These issues are particularly vexing in cases of historical atrocities: What are the standards for historical responsibility? How do efforts at reconciliation around historical conflicts differ from calls for immediate accountability for the past in newly democratic societies? The course examines these political and ethical dilemmas in comparative historical perspective.
The class will meet in five sessions in the fall semester to discuss the theory of historical dialogue, study empirical cases, facilitate contact with the Historical Dialogue Fellows from around the world in residence for the fall semester at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), and plan the students’ projects. Topics for fall meetings include readings on historical accountability; the right to truth and redress; regimes of truths (legal, historical, memory); history and conflict resolution; and trauma and victimization. During winter break, students travel to their pertinent projects, which will be developed with NGO partners—e.g., in Turkey, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, Lebanon, Spain, Japan, Korea, Kenya, Germany, the Baltic states, and the U.S.. These are all areas where vibrant historical civil society activism is ongoing; other regions are also possible. In the spring semester, the class will meet as a group every two weeks, as students conduct research and work on their projects with their NGO. They will present on their progress, and discuss the conceptual challenges they face during the class meetings. Depending on the projects, scholar/activists will be brought to class as necessary and possible. Possible examples of student projects with NGOs:
- the development of exhibitions that showcase governmental responses to historical violence, such as an exhibition on political apologies now touring in Turkey (opened 2012);
- mapping, such as that being done at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights on current projects of historical dialogue around the world (no travel necessary);
- documentation of cases by (limited) research in archives in the relevant countries and the writing of a report for the NGO on documentary material useful to their work;
- identifying potential resources for enhancing the goal of the NGO, e.g., identifying scholars, resource individuals or archives that would enlarge the organization’s network or capacities, or survey potential projects for the organization.
- writing substantive parts of fundraising proposals for the NGO;
- historical analysis of school history textbooks (this is an ongoing project in some countries) and their treatment of historical injustices and violence;
- exploring the feasibility of an oral history project and its contribution to the strategy of the NGO.
In all of these potential projects, the emphasis will be on designing the project a) in dialogue with the NGO; b) to be feasible for the students to complete in the space of the year long course, and c) to be of real use to the NGO.Students might work singly or in groups. Each student/group will be connected to a pertinent NGO in the student’s area of research. These connections may emerge from the interaction with the Historical Dialogue Fellows at ISHR in the fall semester.
Alternatively, students might work as a single group. In the case of a single group project, possible NGO partners would be, e.g., Hafiza Merkezi (Center for Truth, Memory and Justice) located in Istanbul. Students who are not able to register for the entire year can participate in the fall semester’s sessions and attend the final presentations by the full-year students at the end of the year.